Friday, July 3, 2015

At the Movies: "Heat"

At the Movies with Michael5000

Michael Mann, 1995.

imbd: 8.3 (imdb 250: #124)
Ebert: Three and a half Stars.
Rotten Tomatoes: 86% Fresh

When I saw that Heat was on the imdb 250, I was surprised. I remembered it, from a first viewing in the late 1990s, as a mediocre sort of action business. “Well,” I thought, “maybe it has excellences that I didn’t catch the first time around.”

After watching it this time, I checked imdb again to make sure there was no mistake. Was there another, better movie named “Heat?” No, I was watching the right Heat all right. It was just not as good as I had remembered. But there it is at #124, forming an odd little trio with #122, On the Waterfront, and #123, Good Will Hunting, mediocre movies whose reputations have run out way in front of their content.

Heat is ostensibly a heist movie. I am generally a sucker for heist movies! But the fun of the genre is in the logistics – either the clever things that the thieves do to procure money, or the clever things that the cops do to foil them. Heat leaves this part out altogether. Its idea of an exciting heist is for men to wave guns around and shout a lot, and then to walk across a plaza to a waiting car carrying enormous bags of money. No, really, that’s the plan. The police plan is to materialize miraculously, in force, and to engage in a pitched gun battle right there in the plaza. “Get down,” they suggest helpfully to passers-by, as cops and robbers exchange machine-gun fire on a downtown street.

The interesting-crime aspect of the film is underdeveloped to allow for extensive exploration of the love lives of the various cops and robbers. Each relationship is developed over a series of two or three painfully clichéd scenes. These were written, as far as I can tell, by men who had never met any actual women, and were working from hearsay. Much of this relationship aspect of the movie is pretty cringe-worthy, which is especially too bad since the movie sprawls out to an exasperating three hours. It would be an easy matter, and a service, to cut Heat down to a more compact one-and-three-quarters. It would still be no masterpiece, but it would have an exciting tempo with good shoot-outs, and let folks get on to the next part of the evening.

The strength of Heat is that it is beautifully filmed and framed. The camera work is very strong all the way through.

Its weaknesses include, first, an overlong screenplay rife with cliché. Secondly, Heat completely fails to reconcile a pose of gritty realism with a complete disregard for plausibility in many, perhaps most, scenes. I won’t play the game of “that couldn’t really happen because” here because, first, it would be tiresome of me, and second, the list would extend well into next week. Thirdly, Heat has a very bland musical score.

Of the very popular principal actors, Robert de Niro does a good job of acting very masculine and inscrutable, and looking great in suits. Al Pacino, as the dogged detective, puts in a performance that is uncomfortably reminiscent of Seinfeld’s Kramer – check him out, in particular, when he “intimidates criminals.” Val Kilmer looks great. An unnecessarily large supporting cast puts in strong, serviceable performances, doing what they can with the dialog they’ve got.

Prognosis: A lot of people are clearly seeing merit in Heat that goes straight over my head. It is a little surreal, for instance, to read in Ebert's review that "the dialogue is complex enough to allow the characters to say what they're thinking: They are eloquent, insightful, fanciful, poetic when necessary. They're not trapped with cliches." It sounds great! And it also sounds like the very opposite of the movie I just watched. Which is a shame, because I bet I would have really enjoyed the "meticulously conceived bank robbery" that Ebert makes reference to.

What can I say? If you are reading this, I sincerely do not think you would find it a sound investment of three hours.

Michael5000's imdb rating: 4.

This technical goof is insignificant, but it hit my funny bone: during an
epic machine gun battle, the camera sweeps by this police car's preternaturally
even grid of bullet holes.  The tires are unscathed and perky.

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